Wicked Wednesday. A month before Tax Day. All of us with deadlines. So let’s talk organization.
Edith here, churning out word count on a very messy desk. Behind me my office futon couch has turned into an ad hoc filing cabinet. One more year has gone by without entering my professional expenses, trips, and income into some nice application throughout the year as I incur them. I manage to get to talks on time and turn in blog posts on time, usually. But I’m kind of hopeless at the rest.
So Wickeds, what’s your favorite organizational tip? What helps you get through it all without throwing your hands in the air and giving up?
Liz: I’m not the greatest at this sort of thing. That said, when this writing thing turned into a real business I did start a spreadsheet to track my expenses. I track all my appearances, conferences, etc. and associated costs in one section, then in another I track all the other expenses–website costs, office supplies, book stock, and on and on. Now, do I add to it religiously, you ask? No. But I do remember to keep the information in a nice pile so I can go in and add to it a few times a year just to keep the end of year stress to a minimum.
Sherry: I have files in the drawer of my desk marked “Income Tax 2015” and “Book Business 2015”. As I open mail or when I have a receipt I can just plop them in the appropriate file so it’s ready to take to the accountant at the end of the year. I also try to use only one credit card for all of my business expenses.
Edith: I have one credit card for all business expenses, too, Sherry. That helps a lot. As does making lists. A to-do list every day on a pad of paper next to my keyboard. It always starts with “Write.” And I maintain another list on the white board in front of me, which includes longer-term items, things I don’t want to forget to do in the next few weeks. I also keep a paper calendar on the way (a lovely small one from the Tibetan Nuns) and I write all my book events on that, and the mileage for ones I drive to, so at tax time I can easily add them all up.
Jessie: I color code the calendar on my computer. When I add events to my schedule I select the color I use for business, volunteerism or personal. When I add a work or volunteerism event I go to Google Maps and map out the route I plan to take and then add the mileage to the title line for the event. At the end of the year I go through the calendar with a calculator and add up the mileage by category very quickly and easily by looking for the color. For places I visit frequently , using the same route, I keep a sticky note on my computer listing the mileage in order to skip the Google Maps step.
Barb: I keep my paper monthly calendar and all my to do lists in my Levenger junior-size notebook, along with all my “chrono notes,”–notes from meetings, conference calls, etc. kept chronologically through the year. I have done this for YEARS, to the point where my business colleagues were like, “Oh man, the notebook…” All paper–receipts and revenue–get thrown in the cubby over my desk, to be pulled out when it gets full, twice a year or so, and filed.
What about you, dear readers? How do you stay organized?
I used to fool myself and say my mind was organized enough to handle the oddball sorting fest my loose organization demanded. Then I hired Amy.
Ah, Amy! We all need one!
One bound notebook with ledger-lined pages and several manila file folders for receipts and check stubs. I keep track of expenses in the same categories used for taxes and enter each dollar amount (or mileage) with the date and a brief note on the day the expense occurs, or as soon as I get home from a business trip. At the end of the year I just add up the amounts and turn those numbers over to our accountant. He doesn’t need to see the receipts and I don’t need to look at them again. They just go into storage in case I ever get audited. No computer programs involved. I’d never remember to enter stuff if there were. I use a paper calendar, too. What can I say? I’m old fashioned. My idea of backing up the day’s writing, in addition to electronic backups, is printing it out.
Hey, it’s clearly working for you, Kathy!
I have a paper calendar on my desk that looks like an Egyptian scribe threw up on it, but I know what it all means! I also have a notebook sized one that I carry with me. I am not by nature organized but I have learned that keeping the house relatively orderly is important to my peace of mind. My office, however, looks like a band of toddlers on a sugar high ran through it. But when you run a home business, or work at home, you have to have a system. My three rules of organization (which no one asked for but here they are):
1. Answer email the same day as received and red flag those that need follow-up;
2. One day a week (Monday for me) do business and catch up things (send invoices, file receipts, etc;
3. Use a short to-do list for tasks you can actually do every day and do them.
I’m with you about the short to-do list (once I get over laughing about the Egyptian scribe…), and answer email on the same day. I think I should adopt the weekly filing practice!
Quicken, to track all my transactions (checks and credit card). I use it to balance my checkbook, and at tax time I download all my credit card transactions. Each expense (and deposit) is assigned a category, which makes things very easy to sort. I started using it years ago when I was running my own business as a consulting genealogist, for the same reason. I’d be lost without it. (I’m still trying to convince my husband to try it: it would help with retirement planning. Want to know what we spent on utilities last year? Easy–one report. Medical expenses? A different report. Problem is, I think he’s happier not knowing.)
One of these days I’ll join you!
Sheila, I’ve used Quicken since it first began, in 1983 or 1984, for my business, and for my husband’s. It’s gotten so much better over the years, and now I update it every couple of weeks, downloading all transactions from credit cards, checking and savings accounts, and investment accounts. Using credit cards for everything means it all gets into the system; all I have to do is assign categories. But it also remembers categories. So if I routinely get gas or groceries at one place, Quicken automatically gives those places the right category.
Yes, reports are super simple, and it makes tax preparation a snap, even with two family businesses.
I also use Quicken for my husband’s business and mine. It’s a very, very easy program to use and it gives you lovely reports that make taxes easier (I do my own), since you can just assign a category to the transaction, and voila! you know exactly how much you spent on hotels or meals or airfare or continuing education or whatever. Day to day, I’m experimenting with different methods of keeping myself together. I have an inexpensive ARC planner system from Staples that works pretty well to keep track of meetings, conferences and speaking engagements. Works as long as I remember to check it. And I’ve recently started identifying, on Mondays, the top three things I need to accomplish during the week, and daily, the top three things I need to accomplish that day, as well as keeping a running “brain dump” list of all the other to-dos that pop into my head at the most inopportune times, so they can be dealt with later after the important stuff is done. It’s an evolving system. I still find myself accumulating a lot of sticky notes and cryptic notes on napkins and small pieces of paper.
Maybe you would like an Arc hole punch from Staples to corral all those napkins and bits of paper in the notebook you already use? I have one and I love it for that purpose. I also use the top three system and I find it really, really helps make each day feel like I lived intentionally instead of reactively. Bullet journals are great for sticky note addictions. There are lots of videos explaining the technique on Youtube.
I’m just here to take notes! Great ideas.
My most recent organizational tool is Microsoft OneNote. It’s on four different devices, so if I get a brilliant idea or need to make a reminder note I can add it, and it gets updated on all four venues. I’ve been keeping a running grocery list on OneNote, too, which is so much easier than trying to remember to bring a list. It’s on my phone, and I can check items off as needed. If I think of something I need to do or to remember at night, I can add it to the list without turning on the light.
I’ve heard of OneNote, Karen. Glad it works for you.
Hi, ladies. As far as taxes go, I have a folder and drop everything in it. Then I take one day and organize and create my excel sheet. It doesn’t take long and by concentrating on just it, I get through faster.
Organized? What’s that? 5 minutes in my condo would show you how unorganized I am.
Oh, and I usually do my taxes in February. Still need to do mine this year. I’m hoping this weekend, but we shall see.
Funny, Mark! Good luck with the taxes.
BASKETS, manila envelopes for broad categories and a dedicated credit card. That’s worked for me so far – toss receipts in the basket and, when the spirit moves me, put them into envelopes roughly organized by tax related expenses. However, I see some great suggestions from the group that I know would improve my casual system as things (happily) get busier for me this year.
Working as I do in what is essentially a closet under the cupola in an old Victorian – there is hardly room to turn around, nevermind have a filing cabinet. If I were smart, if only for that reason, I would try Quicken again. I think it’s marvelous, but I just seem to be more compatible with paper!
Same here, Marian. One of these days!
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